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BFC gives report, gets grilled on library plans

Berlin Fire Company representatives present a quarterly financial report during a Town Council meeting on Monday night.

By Josh Davis, Associate Editor

(Jan. 31, 2109) Town of Berlin officials accepted a quarterly report from the Berlin Fire Company Monday, and asked President David Fitzgerald to make sure he was doing all he could to make his dollars go further.

Quarterly reports in January, April, July and October are part of a new $605,000 funding agreement the company and town struck last year.

The new contract represented a significant increase in funding from previous levels, as town funds for fire and EMS from 2015-2017 averaged $400,000 per year, according to a Matrix Consulting Group funding study.

Fitzgerald, accompanied by Assistant Chief Robert J. Rhode and EMS Captain John Holloway, presented slides showing fire and EMS activity from July through December.

He said 123 fire calls were received in town during that period, accounting for 44.5 percent of all calls. During the quarter, 50 calls were in town limits or 46.72 of the total.

The average response time was 5.79 minutes, slightly under the 6-minute county goal, Fitzgerald said.

He said the fire company took part in “numerous Fire Prevention Week activities,” including visits to local schools and school visits to the station on Main Street, although the company exceeded its budget for period in part “due to requests for educational supplies.”

The most serious fire during the period occurred at Apple Drugs on Nov. 10, Fitzgerald said.

Overall, Fitzgerald said company revenues during the quarter accounted for 27 percent of yearly estimates, while expenses were at 37 percent. He said some transfers from contingency funds were necessary because of “the way the funds are being paid by the town, quarterly.”

Mayor Gee Williams said that sort of thing was normal for town governments, as well as for many businesses.

“Sometimes a lot comes in and then nothing … and it’s very uneven,” Williams said. “Some projects we don’t start until the spring even though the fiscal year ends July 1, just to make sure that everything is working out as best we can.”

Fitzgerald said 540 in-town EMS calls were received from July through December, accounting for 58.5 percent of all calls. He said during the quarter 290 calls and 65.1 percent were in Berlin limits.

EMS response times were 7.53 minutes, but those numbers were offset by second and third-response calls that included unstaffed units, Fitzgerald said. He said the standard for staffed first-responder calls was 60 seconds.

Fitzgerald said there was no contingency fund for EMS, “so we need to make sure we have the actual cash to pay the last payrolls.”

He also promised to provide more information for John Stern of PKS & Company, who oversees the annual audit of Town of Berlin finances. A similar audit of fire and EMS financials is part of the new funding agreement.

Pressed by Williams and Councilman Thom Gulyas, Fitzgerald said Stern had so far only received a hard copy of the fire and EMS report.

“Our goal is [to get that to PKS] as soon as the information is given,” Williams said.

Gulyas also asked what the plans were for the old Berlin library building on Main Street, which is now controlled by the fire company.

Fitzgerald said the fire company would use it for meeting, training and office space to free up room in the main station building, but Gulyas said it was his understanding the fire company “were going to do that in that room on the second floor” inside the station.

“If you remember, we discussed there’s quite a few agencies looking for space,” Gulyas said. “I know two of them that were interested in that library that are paying several thousand dollars a month where they are now.”

Fitzgerald said having employees upstairs hurts response time, while Williams encouraged him “not to act too fast.”

“There is a demand out there for space for a variety of things, from the private sector, nonprofit sector [and] public sector, that you can have a source of additional income, right there, guaranteed,” Williams said. “I would ask that, before you move over into additional space, that you consider your revenue potential from that building. There’s not many places available right on main street, with parking.

“I think it’s also important to ensure that everything is being done with what you have, because obviously to maintain the level of funding that you currently have, we’re going to have to raise more funds ourselves,” he continued. “If everybody is doing everything they can … then I think it’s much more understandable to the public.”

Gulyas asked if any bunkrooms, kitchen or office space were being built into the new Station Three on Ocean Gateway near Stephen Decatur High School. Fitzgerald said there was not.

“The new station is strictly for apparatus bays, two bathrooms and a mechanical room … and a small, little radio room where you have a computer and [can] answer the radio,” Fitzgerald said. “No offices.”

“I wanted to agree [with] and emphasize what the mayor told you,” Gulyas said. “I really think you guys are missing the boat on leasing that unit that you’ve got in that old library. You’re looking at probably $3,500 to $5,000 a month income from that.”

He also asked Fitzgerald to let town officials know when Stern had received the additional information requested.